United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Portalatin sued Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore,
LLC, a law firm, and Midland Funding, LLC, alleging they
violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692i(a). Blatt filed a debt collection suit on
Midland's behalf against Portalatin in the Circuit Court
of Cook County's First Municipal District-whose
courthouse is in downtown Chicago-rather than in the
court's Fourth Municipal District, in which Portalatin
resided. Portalatin settled with Midland.
Court entered summary judgment in favor of Portalatin against
Blatt on the issue of liability, overruling Blatt's
contention that its violation of the FDCPA was based on a
"bona fide error" due to its reliance on legal
precedent. Portalatin v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker
& Moore, LLC, 125 F.Supp.3d 810 (N.D. Ill. 2015).
The Court declined to stay the case pending the Seventh
Circuit's en banc consideration of a case called
Oliva that also involved Blatt and the same bona
fide error issue, so the case proceeded to a jury trial on
damages in November 2015.
trial, Portalatin sought only statutory damages, asking the
jury to award the statutory maximum of $1, 000. Blatt argued
that the jury should award no damages. The jury awarded
Portalatin $200. The Court entered judgment in
Portalatin's favor and denied Blatt's post-trial
motions in February 2016. See Portalatin v. Blatt,
Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore, LLC, No. 14 C 8271,
2016 WL 693208 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 20, 2016). Blatt filed a
notice of appeal in March 2016. The Seventh Circuit stayed
the appeal pending resolution of Oliva, and this
Court similarly stayed the filing of Portalatin's fee
of this year, the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc,
ruled against Blatt on the bona fide error issue. Oliva
v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore, LLC, 864
F.3d 492 (7th Cir. 2017). This Court then lifted the stay in
the present case, and Portalatin has filed a petition for
attorney's fees and expenses, which the Court considers
in this decision.
is no question that Portalatin is a prevailing party entitled
to a fee award under 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). Portalatin
won the case. The Court entered summary judgment in her favor
against Blatt on the issue of liability, and a jury awarded
her statutory damages, albeit less than what she requested.
fees under the FDCPA are determined in the same way as under
other federal fee-shifting statutes, namely, by multiplying a
reasonable hourly rate for the attorney's services by the
number of hours reasonably expended. See Gastineau v.
Wright, 592 F.3d 747, 748 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-37 (1983)).
"If necessary, [a] district court has the flexibility to
adjust that figure to reflect various factors including the
complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree of
success obtained, and the public interest advanced by the
litigation." Id. (internal quotation marks
had three attorneys work on the case during the time it was
pending in this Court. The laboring oar was carried by
Mohammed Badwan of Sulaiman Law Group, Ltd. Ross Zambon, who
is of counsel to Sulaiman Law Group, also performed work on
the case. Finally, Nick Wooten, an Arkansas-based attorney,
came into the case once it was set for trial and served as
lead trial counsel.
seeks to recover for 161.5 hours of Badwan's time at a
rate of $375 per hour. She seeks to recover for 64.5 hours of
Wooten's time at a rate of $550 per hour; Wooten put in
another 20 hours on the case for which Portalatin does not
seek to recover fees. Finally, Zambon worked 29.4 hours and
claims an hourly rate of $425, but Portalatin has exercised
"billing judgment, " Spegon v. Catholic Bishop
of Chi., 175 F.3d 544, 552 (7th Cir. 1999), and does not
seek to recover for Zambon's time.
total award that Portalatin requests is $96, 037.50, plus
costs of $772.95. Blatt does not object to the requested cost
award but argues that the requested attorney's fees are
excessive. The Court notes that records produced by Blatt at
the Court's direction during the process of briefing the
petition reflect that Blatt's counsel billed it for 173.9
hours at rates ranging from $350 per hour to $550 per hour,
for a total of $88, 078.
has the burden of persuasion on whether the requested hourly
rates are reasonable. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437. The
Court begins with the proposed $375 hourly rate for Badwan.
Badwan has been practicing law since 2009. He has had fees
approved in bankruptcy litigation at a higher rate ($425).
Blatt has offered no contrary evidence. The Court also notes
that Blatt's counsel billed out at $350 per hour two
"junior associates" who appear to have somewhat
less practice experience than Badwan. In addition, the Court
recently approved a $375 rate in a consumer-law case for an
attorney with a similar level of experience, finding that
rate to be properly supported with reference to rates
commonly charged in this area under similar circumstances.
See Stocksman v. Global Credit and Collection Corp.,
No. 14 C 6862, 2015 WL 4999851, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 21,
2015); Kasalo v. Trident Asset Mgmt., LLC, No. 12 C
2900, 2015 WL 2097605, at *3 (N.D. Ill. May 3, 2015). For
these reasons, the Court finds that Portalatin has
established that Badwan's requested rate of $375 is
has been practicing law since 1997. He seeks an hourly rate
of $550. His reasonable rate is appropriately higher than
Badwan's given his greater level of practice experience.
But Wooten has done next to nothing to support his requested
rate. He cites no billed rates for hourly-rate-paying clients
and no fee awards in other cases. His only evidence of other
specific hourly rates consists of somewhat vague and
unsupported references to rates charged by opposing counsel
in other cases. This is less than persuasive given (among
other things) the absence of supporting detail. To be sure,
Wooten's requested rate is the same charged by lead
defense counsel David Hartsell for the latter part of this
litigation-around the same period when Wooten was
involved-and, based on review of information on
Hartsell's law firm's website, he appears to have
approximately the same amount of practice experience as
Wooten. But that is a rather thin reed on which to base an
hourly rate. Wooten also cites the so- called "Laffey
Matrix, " but its usefulness in determining reasonable
market rates-at least for Chicago-is suspect. See Pickett
v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 649-51 (7th
Cir. 2011). This Court has declined to give it significant
weight in other cases, see, e.g., Wells v. City of
Chicago, 925 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1040 (N.D. Ill. 2013), and